Cultural differences abound…The proverbial WC (water closet), the beach and more…Far removed from our own reality…

At this beautiful stopover, we walked halfway to the ocean, but we didn’t spend much time. We were looking forward to returning to the road behind all the vehicles we had already passed. It was Tom’s rationalization, not mine. (Previously we posted a similar photo at this place).

“Sightings on the Beach in Bali”

Sunset from the veranda.

We knew so little about the lives of those living in poverty until we began to travel the globe almost four years ago. Yes, we saw homeless people living in some less-than-desirable areas as close as 30 minutes away from our home in Minnesota.

However, over these years we’ve traveled through countless impoverished areas, at times a short walk from our vacation home. Today’s post is not a “political piece” on our views on poverty throughout the world. Clearly, it speaks for itself.

Instead, it’s an eye-wide-open observation of how many people must function in this world without the benefit of indoor plumbing and electricity, often living in makeshift three sided shanties with barely any protection from the elements.

The restroom areas are unisex. When we opened the door and looked inside, we wrongly assumed this one was missing a toilet.

Others may live in the streets without a permanent place to rest their heads at night, while in richer areas, may reside in their cars, public shelters and camps. Every public space becomes a possibility, far away, isolated or not.

In many countries like Fiji (where we lived for four months and Bali (where we’ll have spent another total of four months) from what we’ve understood from the locals, most citizens care for their own, whether family members, friends or neighbors. But in doing so they too can live in poverty without the conveniences and comforts that the rest of us easily take for granted.

In neither country does the government provide financial support to the poor, people with illnesses and disabilities, or the elderly. In Fiji, healthcare is free. In Bali, one must pay (prices are relatively low for medical care as compared to other parts of the world) or obtain pricey insurance which is beyond the reach of most.

After further inspection, we realized that the narrow bowl was really the toilet. The bucket of water and scoop were for tidying up, not washing hands. Fortunately, we keep antibacterial wipes handy at all times. This facility was clean in comparison to the other facilities we encountered.

In Bali, there is no such thing as government provided food stamps, no welfare, no unemployment benefits and no Food Shelf. The Balinese people aren’t waiting for a handout from anyone. Their joy of life clearly illustrates their independence and fortitude. They work, they share and they’re resourceful. 

Beyond all the challenges of the poor maintaining some form of shelter and finding sources of food, they have the reality of such basic human functions as finding a place to go to the bathroom when perhaps half or more of the population don’t have a toilet in their place of residence.

In yesterday’s post we touched a local tradition of cleaning the entrails of a cow in the river next door and thus contaminating the water, but, also the deification of humans and buffalo in this same body of water. 

Apparently, there was some type of museum here, but we continued on the long drive rather than take time to see it.

Seeing both children and adults swimming, bathing and playing in the toxic water is disheartening and yet they do so with considerable joy and laughter. Our personal concern for their contracting a disease is irrelevant. Most likely, their bodies have adapted to the bacteria. Most likely, they don’t give it a thought.

Yesterday afternoon, as we lounged under the cabana, our eyes scanned the beach in hopes of finding more interesting “Sightings on the Beach in Bali” a daily activity we’ve found to be quite enjoyable, not unlike searching for unusual seashells on our walks along the shore. We’ll excitedly share what we’ve found in an upcoming post.

Tom’s eyes widened and then squinted as he attempted to focus on a man, pointing him out to me, who was on the beach several paces from the water as we observed him removing his pants and underwear in plain view of us and others. It only took a moment to determine what was to transpire next.

A hut on the property, purpose unknown.

Not that far from us, we watched him, bare from the waist down, digging a hole in the sand to use as a toilet. Once he was satisfied with his handmade toilet in the sand, he proceeded to use it with nary a thought of being observed in the open space.

At first, we were a little taken aback. We’d seen people using the river as a toilet, but not the sand on the beach. The man stayed “seated” on his sand toilet for some time, occasionally pushing the sand around and tossing sand in the air. After about 15 minutes, he arose, covered the hole with sand, put on his clothes and went on his way.

Click here to see the video of beaches in India used for the same purpose.

Another statue.

At first, our normal human reaction was, “Oh, how dirty, how unseemly!” But, then as we spoke to one another of the sighting we came to understand and appreciate that such a use of the sand on the beach may not be unusual in an impoverished country. 

Surely, if the man had a home of his own with indoor plumbing, most likely he wouldn’t have come to the beach for this purpose. Then again, could a taxi driver unable to find a restroom, choose this option? Possibly. In a desperate situation anyone could possibly choose this option, although perhaps more discretely.

What a lovely rest stop halfway through the long drive!

There are few places to stop for a restroom on the highway, as we experienced in the four to five hour harrowing drive from Denpasar to the villa. It was halfway through the long drive that we found a place to stop which was originally the basis of today’s cultural story. It was only yesterday’s coincidental sighting of the man on the beach that inspired us to also include the man’s choice of toilets.

We didn’t take photos of the man on the beach. However, we found this interesting video on YouTube about how this is common in India and perhaps, more often than we’d expect, here in Bali and other parts of the world.

Monkey faced statue.

When we were in Bali during May and June this year, we shared a story and photos of an embarrassing experience I had, using a WC at the Monkey Temple. It was a lesson learned about cultural differences that I’ll always remember. 

Today’s photos illustrate a separate experience we encountered only 12 days ago when we stopped to use the restroom at a beautiful spot on the way to the villa only this time, experiencing an entirely different type of toilet as shown in these photos.

The young cow on the right with her newly born calf checked us out, surely concerned for her calf’s well being. Zoom in to see the tiny calf at her side.

Soon, we’re off to Negara, drinking minimal liquids in the interim, preferring not to bring any beverages with us, other than a bottle of water for a few sips during the heat of the day.

We remain in awe and humbled by our surroundings, grateful for our lives of relative ease while becoming all the more profoundly aware of the lives of those throughout the world. 

Be well on this day and always.

Photo from one year ago today, September 14, 2015:

After we arrived in Fiji one year ago we shopped at this tiny grocery that didn’t have much of a selection for us with only three grocery aisles. But, as always, we figured it out and managed to make good meals during the three month stay. For more details, please click here.

Mastering cultural differences takes practice….Embarrassing outcome when I got it wrong…

Here we are wearing saris standing at the foot of the steps at the Pulaki Temple in Singaraja. This isn’t the first time Tom’s worn a dress/skirt. Please see below. 

“Sightings on the Beach in Bali”

At quite a distance…a barge carrying coal, pulled by a tugboat.

On the return trip from Lovina to the villa, the second tourist attraction we visited was the Pulaki Temple as described on this website:

Pulaki Temple or Pura Pulaki is a Hindu shrine located on the hill bank with a beautiful beach just in front of the temple located in the north part of Bali. It is one of the biggest Hindu temples in Bali situated in the coastal side west part of Singaraja town or 1-hour drive to the west from the town. This temple is set on flat land with a stone hill bank as a backdrop meanwhile the blue ocean is just in front of the temple. The holy group of monkeys is living around the temple and keeps the temple from the bad influences according to what the local people believe. These monkeys are coming from the Macaca fascicularis group or Long-Tailed Macaque. Pulaki Temple is one of the places appointed by Bali’s government as a tourist destination that you must visit when traveling to Bali in particular north part the island.”

Bat-like ears on this monkey.

We were the only tourists at the popular location during the entire visit. Our driver, Butu, escorted us through the temple having been there many times in the past with other tourists.  His English is limited, although he managed to communicate a few key aspects worthy of note. 

These two were sitting on a wall observing the activities of the others.

We were charged a nominal fee for the cost of the saris, IDR $50,000, US $3.69 (for both) which are required to be worn upon entering a Hindu temple. It was hot and humid but this level of dress wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as it was when I wore the “abaya” and Tom wore a “thobe” when we visited the White Mosque in Abu Dhabi, UAE as shown in this photo below, coincidentally about three years ago in the latter part of May. Here’s the link to that post in 2013.

In 2013, we stayed in Dubai for two weeks in a high-rise vacation condo. Unfortunately, I was ill during our entire stay in Dubai with an awful virus and sinus infection, which developed during the prior Middle Eastern cruise.  It was during this time while I was still ill, that we visited the White Mosque in Abu Dhabi.  The temperature that day was at least 40C, 104F. The black silky fabric over my long pants was uncomfortable. Tom was OK in the cooler, lighter fabric of the white thobe.

The attendant at the Pulaki Temple dressed us, over our clothes, in the sari with the accompanying waistband.  Tom had a bit of difficulty walking with the long skirt reaching to the ground. 

Many of us have worn our share of long skirts and dresses, easily able to walk without tripping. I laughed when he mumbled under his breath about the tangled fabric around his legs, making walking up the steps difficult. 

Nice teeth!

We were both fascinated with the design of the temple, taking many photos we’ll share over the next few days.  I was particularly excited to take photos of the Long Tailed Macaque monkeys who were relatively tame but nonetheless wild animals. 

In many ways, they’re so much like us.

At night, the monkeys live in the forest behind the temple, visiting the temple during the day when they’re fed not only by the religious personnel but also by the tourists. They weren’t as pesky as we’d expected although on a few occasions they wrapped their arms around our legs. 

A baby hanging on for dear life!  Notice the little point atop the mom’s head.

We’d read stories online about tourists being bite by monkeys at temples although not a common occurrence.  In any case, it made sense to stay back a reasonable distance as we’ve learned in our travels after spending considerable time in the presence of wild animals. They are “wild” after all. =And, even tame animals, especially monkeys, can attack unprovoked.

This monkey had lost an eye.

Now on to the embarrassing part…

After we were satisfied we’d seen all we wanted to see and do at the Pulaki Temple we’d handed back our saris.  I asked for “toilet” a word commonly recognized the world over as opposed to asking for a “restroom” or “ladies or men’s room.” In many countries, the letters “WC” for “water closet” are posted at the appropriate locations.

This fellow checked us out as we entered the temple.

We were pointed in the direction of the water closet, a short distance from the entrance area to the temple requiring we walk over uneven terrain and a grassy yard without a path. An attendant followed us to collect the payment for using the WC of IDR $2000, US $.15 which Tom handed her promptly.

Opening the door to the WC, I was stunned. This was a first for me in all of our world travels to date, keeping in mind, that I try to avoid using public facilities as much as possible.  here was no toilet so to speak, only this similar porcelain lined hole in the floor as shown in this photo I found online:

Not our photo. (I never take the camera into a WC with me). Some of these squatting toilets are raised a little. The one I used at the temple was flush (no pun intended) with the floor as shown.

This isn’t a position I find required in our daily lives. And, at my age of 68, not one I can easily maneuver purely from lack of practice, although now I may start working on this particular stance.

Angry statues at Hindu temples are intended to keep “evil” and “bullies” away.

Recalling how well I mastered peeing in odd situations referred to as “checking the tire pressure” as our guide, Anderson described during our safari in the Maasai Mara in October 2103, I wondered how I’d manage this.

But, I ran into a few obstacles; one, I was wearing long pants; two, I couldn’t take the pants off without removing my shoes and the floor to the small enclosure was very wet. There was no way I was going to stand in bare feet on that floor. Plus, my pants would undoubtedly get wet as I removed them.

Cats are often depicted at temples.

As fit as I attempt to be, considering my precarious spinal condition, there was no way I could keep my pants on without getting them soaked from the floor while attempting to “check the tire pressure” which over the long drive and sipping on my iced tea definitely had become an urgent situation.

Holding onto a pole while thinking.

I challenge any of our dear female readers to undertake this position with your pants still on. If you can do this, I’d love to hear from you and how you accomplished it. Keeping in mind, there was no place to hold onto for support. Had there been, I may have been able to accomplish it.

We didn’t want to disturb the monks to discover what they were doing.  For more on Hinduism, please click this informative link.

Alas, “checking the tire pressure” resulted in my peeing all over my light tan pants. Oh, by the way, there was no light and no window in the little room. It was completely dark. I couldn’t even see “where” to aim, let alone be in an appropriate position while aiming.

Not wanting to draw attention to myself when I exited the WC, well aware my pants were entirely soaked, Tom walked back to the car close behind me. Luckily, I had a pair of shorts in the bag which I’d intended to change into at some point but never had. 

Looks like a teenager with that hairdo.

Both the immigration office and the temple require visitors to wear long pants. I changed in the car while Butu and Tom waited outside. With the seat pulled forward all the way for Tom’s legs in the backseat, even getting changed wasn’t all that easy. At this point, I was hot and sweaty from both experiences.

I placed my pants on the floor in the backseat for the remaining one-hour drive back to the villa, hand washing them with laundry soap in the bathroom sink when we returned. Whew!

Watching and waiting for action.

Was I the first female tourist that had such an experience at that or other “squatting required” toilets? Probably not. Nor will I be the last.  Embarrassed?  Certainly not in front of Tom and I doubt Butu or the temple staff noticed me. I supposed it was a “foolish me” moment, one that I’ve already found myself chuckling about. 

However, it was a lesson learned about cultural differences. Guess I’d better start working on those deep knee squats…with pants on and pulled down of course. 

Photo from one year ago today, May 27, 2015:

Tom’s miniature lemon meringue pie for dessert on the first night aboard the cruise from Honolulu to Sydney. For more cruise photos, please click here.

A lifestyle story from a local worker…Far removed from the reality of many throughout the world…Familiar to many others…

Overall, the beaches in this area are rocky.

At the moment, we’re the only residents at our resort other than Mario and Tatiana, whose house is quite a distance from ours, almost inaccessible on foot. Other guests are arriving after we soon depart.

As a result, the housekeepers haven’t been as busy as usual with only our free-standing house to clean and the other units in the main building requiring only dusting and general upkeep in the interim. Tidy and often doing much of the cleaning ourselves, our little house requires little work each day.

When Vika arrived yesterday, the younger sister of Usi with whom she splits the workweek, I finally had a chance to “interview” her knowing she didn’t have to rush off to clean the other units. I’ve wanted to inquire more as to their lifestyle since we arrived, but was only able to do so in snippets as they breezed through doing their work seven days a week.

Vika, who lives with her older brother happily shared the nuances of her everyday life, which was surprising in many ways. We had some idea as to the everyday life of many locals from prior conversations and subsequent posts. 

Each household operates on its own level of affordability based on amenities in their homes, income levels, and also a desire to maintain the integrity of their ancestors and generations past, preferring not to adopt many modern conveniences more out of familiarity than for any other reason.

We stopped many times on the beach road to revel in the views.

Vika’s home currently has no electricity. When the power was out over a week ago, it never came back on at her house. I asked her if electricity was generally available at her home. 

She explained having power was an on and off thing and she needed to visit the power company to discuss it further. I offered her my phone to make the call and that I’d look up the number for her online. She graciously declined seeming unconcerned that they’d again have power. 

They have no appliances…no stove…no refrigerator…no radio…no TV…no washing machine…no means of cooking indoors or preserving food from spoilage…no coolers.

We spent considerable time discussing the preparation and storage of food. When our refrigerator didn’t work for 24 hours, we threw away the roasted chicken, mayonnaise, and many other perishable items. 

Now, we understand why the locals were shocked as we tossed what they may have construed as “edible” food into the trash. They have fewer concerns over spoilage. Perhaps, their bodies have adapted to withstand possible illnesses wrought by unrefrigerated foods. I don’t know for sure.

Cooking is another challenge, all done outdoors on rough wood stoves. Also, without a kitchen in their house, all food prep is handled outdoors as they fire up the woodstove to prepare it for cooking for each meal. All wood used for cooking is gathered outdoors, never purchased, other than if it’s a big holiday celebration with lots of food being prepared.

The narrow road we toured.

Keeping in mind, that Vika lives walking distance from us, albeit up and down a very steep incline, it may be difficult for some to envision the simplicity of life in such close proximity. When she or Usi arrive each morning they are beautifully dressed, coifed, and wearing pretty handmade jewelry and earrings. 

They appear as if they are preparing to attend a party as opposed to cleaning in their colorful dresses, often a long skirt and matching short sleeve top. I always genuinely compliment them on how lovely they look as they shyly smile offering a heartfelt “vinaka” (thank you) for the compliment.  

The smile on their faces truly reflects the kind, loving and happy spirit they each possess, as we’ve seen in the Fijian people since we arrived almost three months ago.

My questions continued with such things as:

1.  Do you shop at the Farmers Market?  “No, we have a garden and get all of our vegetables from there and fruits from the trees.” On the property here we could easily gather enough fresh fruit for a family from the available papaya, cassava, pineapple, lemons, limes, breadfruit, and a variety of other pods that are fit for human consumption.
2.  Do you shop at the grocery stores? “Only once in a while if we need a few items like soap for hand washing clothes and other household items. But, not food.”
3.  What do you do for meat without refrigeration? “My father lives nearby and has electricity and a small freezer where he keeps some meat we can use. Mostly, we eat fish that we catch and only a little meat once in a while all cooked on the fire.”
4.  We’ve noticed the locals like bread and sweets? Do you purchase any of them at the bakery in the village?  “No, I know how to bake over the open fire to make the bread and sweets which we do quite often.” (Her mastery of the English language is flawless and the local accent is easy to understand as is the case for both the native Fijian and the Indo-Fijians whose ancestors came to the islands from India with a current language which is a combination of Fijian and Hindi. Vika and Usi are Indo-Fijians, as is the case for Rasnesh and Sewak).
5.  How do you bake over an open fire? (I knew the answer to this question but wanted to hear how the locals do this). “We will place the baking pan in another larger pan of water making steam and then cover it. It bakes the bread and sweets easily.”
6.  The biggest question in my mind was this: What do you do with leftover food without refrigeration? In a way, this question may have been ridiculous. For millennium, the human race survived without refrigeration. It is only our narrow minds (mine included) that assume that people always become ill from leftover unrefrigerated foods. Vika explained:  “We often have leftover foods from cooking. We place them in containers on a shelf in the house. I pack my lunch for work each day.  It may contain leftovers foods from the last day; meats, rice, fruits, vegetables, and a sweet treat.” I didn’t react, preferring not to embarrass her with my western mentality and concern for the safe preservation of food. They obviously have survived for generations eating leftover food without preservation.
7.  My last question: Do you sleep in a bed?  Vika replied, “My bed is a mattress on the floor. I am happy with this. Growing up, we slept on a mat on the floor. As we got older we got one mattress which my siblings and I took turns sharing. It was so comfortable, we couldn’t believe it.” 

The occupants of the houses across the street have to travel a short distance for a sandy beach.

As we’ve slept on one of those uncomfortable locally available mattresses for these past 83 nights, it did enter our minds how many locals may actually be sleeping on mats of the floor. We didn’t complain and made the best of it with no box springs and a blanket under the sheet so we couldn’t feel the mattress springs as much as they were digging into our ribs and hips.

In an earlier post, we wrote about the often lack of a TV, computers, and cell phones for many locals in this and of course, many other countries throughout the world. 

Their evenings are often spent reading by lantern or candlelight, playing games, and doing a variety of handicrafts. We thought of this a week ago when we had no power for less than eight hours. Working hard during the day, plus the difficult walking required to get anywhere with the steep mountain inclines draws them to crawl into bed early. 

Keeping one’s mind engaged may be a challenge for the local people without modern conveniences, digital equipment, and electricity. And yet, they’ve found ways to busy their minds in idle hours. The crime rate is nearly non-existent on this island (not the case on the bigger island). 

This is a popular snorkeling area with extensive coral reefs.

We’ve yet to hear a siren other than an ambulance on a rare occasion, more often than not used by the foreign residents and travelers. The locals would most likely figure out how to get to the hospital with the help of friends or families with some type of vehicle. Ratnesh explained he often provides “free” taxi service for his friends and family, whether on a trip to a shop or for any type of emergency.

Vika and I spoke about cultural differences which she’s observed working around tourists she’s encountered in this job and her past job at a larger resort. She explained that many are demanding with unrealistic expectations. 

Finally, it was time for her to go but before she did, I showed her a few of our favorite videos on YouTube we’ve taken over these past three years. She giggled, enjoying every moment, thanking me profusely for sharing these morsels of our travels with her. She especially loved the wildlife, “Birdie ” and the albatross videos from Kauai, a few of our favorites.

My heart was singing over her joy from this simple pleasure. Without a doubt, sharing with her yesterday was a day I’ll always treasure. Between humans, animals, and exquisite scenery our travels continue to be enriched in each location in a variety of ways. 

We are humbled. We are grateful. We continue on in six more days. 

Oh, oh, ironically, the power just went out…

Photo from one year ago today, November 30, 2014:

A classic car hanging from the ceiling at the Hard Rock Café in Lahaina, Maui. For more details, please click here.